Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: February 10, 2020
The Polestar Engineered upgrades have finally made their way to Volvo’s mid-size SUV, the XC60. That means more power, better brakes, a plug-in hybrid setup, and a considerable jump in price. The 2020 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered starts at $89,150, a massive $15,300 jump over the standard T8 model, and a whopping $30,000 over the Inscription T6. Despite coming standard with nearly every feature in the book (our optional 22-inch wheels did knock the price north of $90,000, though), is that sizable price justified, especially when it puts the XC60 PE up against high-octane rivals like the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S ($90,500), Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio ($95,000), BMW X3 M ($82,700), and Jaguar F-Pace SVR ($92,000)?
The simple answer is no, but the XC60 does make a compelling case for itself with ample power, a beautifully tuned chassis, and the ability to run on electricity only, something its other competitors cannot do. Polestar Engineered upgrades the powertrain with an ECU tune, so that the 2.0-litre super- and turbo-charged four-cylinder paired with the electric motor and 11.6-kWh lithium-ion battery produces a healthy 415 hp and 494 lb-ft, an increase of 15 hp and 22 lb-ft over the standard T8. It also buys you manually adjustable Öhlins dampers, Akebono brakes (unlike the Brembos in the V60 PE) with yellow calipers flanking 21-inch forged alloy wheels, and a new strut bar shared with the Polestar 1 performance coupe. The XC60 remains fairly low-key in appearance, with just the black exterior elements on the front grill and mirror caps, white Polestar badges, and golden seatbelts and calipers to set it apart from the more civilian XC60s.
We tested the PE upgrades on the smaller V60 T8 wagon, and though sufficiently quick and effective as a quick family hauler, the wagon failed to impress us due to its substantial weight. The same goes for the XC60. While the total claimed output is 494 lb-ft, it feels more like mid-300s. That’s because the combustion engine only powers the front wheels, while the electric motor takes care of the rear axle, so while the combined output is impressive, the real-world result is disappointing. In proof, the XC60 PE accelerates from 0-100 km/h in 5.1 seconds, barely enough to keep up with a Subaru WRX or the new MINI JCW Countryman.
That said, what it lacks in straight line acceleration, it does impress in cornering and body control. Affable and approachable, the XC60 PE is a calm cruiser but loses little confidence in recreational blasts up the twisties. The key to that are the Öhlins dampers, manually adjustable by popping the front hood (and rear wheel well) and cranking that golden knob to suit your fancy. That means you can’t adjust the suspension settings on the fly like you would in rivaling SUVs, nor are they adaptive dampers. What you’re left with is a stiff but robust ride that absorbs vertical movement just as well as it stays flat and level under rotation. Even with the substantial 22-inch tires, the XC60 feels buttoned down and much more comfortable an X3 M, but not as balanced as the Stelvio QV or GLC 63. As with the V60 T8 PE, the 8-speed automatic also remains a sore spot of the powertrain. While smooth and rather undetectable when left to automatic shifting, manually rowing your own gears exposes its lethargic and sluggish shift patterns. The less-than-eager revving four-cylinder that is curiously overstressed does not help either.
And while the plug-in capability does set the XC60 PE apart, its electric-only range is miniscule, with our trip computer estimating 25 kms on a full battery charge. In the midst of zero-degrees Celsius weather, we barely achieved 15 km of city driving, and this was with gentle throttle application. The heated seats and steering wheel were on too, as they should be in the Canadian winter season. But we can safely report back that powered by the batteries alone, the XC60 is a silent and smooth operator. We just wish it lasted longer.
Like the V60 T8 Polestar Engineered, the XC60 PE is not the Polestar we want, but it is still an effective, well-rounded SUV that is speedy, carries zero-emission range capability, and distinctively sets itself apart with gold and black accents. The interior oozes with comfort, Swedish simplicity, and houses a fantastic touchscreen unit replete with every feature that today’s automotive market expects. But if it wants to hang with the big boys, and its hefty price tag says it does, then Volvo needs to capture the magic to make it a compelling alternative to AMG, M, or SVR. With the XC60 PE, it hasn’t. But if Volvo were to alternatively position it against mid-range performance SUVs like the GLC 43, X3 M40i, and Audi SQ5 instead, then we would be head over heels for this latest Polestar. Knock that pricing down a peg or two, Volvo, and you just might have a winner. For now, we would look elsewhere.
Model: 2020 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered
Paint Type: Crystal White Pearl
Base Price: $89,150
Price as Tested: $90,625
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,688 / 1,902 / 1,658
Curb weight (kg): 2,160
Engine: 2.0-litre supercharged, turbocharged four cylinder + electric motor and battery
Horsepower: 415 hp combined (328 hp engine + 87 hp electric motor)
Torque: 494 lb-ft (317 lb-ft + 177 lb-ft)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 11.4
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 11.7